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Sermon for 4 January 2015

FIRST READING 1 Kings 3:4–15

4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” 10 It pleased the LORD that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.


PSALM Psalm 119:97–104

97 Oh, how I love your teaching! All the day long it is in my mind. 98 Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my study. 100 I am wiser than the elders, because I observe your commandments. 101 I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word. 102 I do not turn aside from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste! They are sweeter than honey to my mouth. 104 Through your commandments I gain understanding; therefore I hate every lying way.
SECOND READING Ephesians 1:3–14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.


GOSPEL Luke 2:40–52

40 The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. 41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

How many here today made at least one New Year’s resolution this year? Now, for the real question, how many of you have already broken at least one of those resolutions? Weight Watchers and Nutri-System and all the other diet plans have their biggest months in January. Did you hear about the notice that appeared in a church bulletin: “Weight Watchers will meet this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Please use the large double door at the side entrance.” Some here may have resolved to pursue an exercise program. One fellow says that he doesn’t believe in exercise. He says if God meant for us to touch our toes, God would have put them farther up our body. Another gentleman said his doctor suggested he try running in place. The man asked, “In place of what?”
New Year’s resolutions are as common as fast food restaurants are along the highway. Statically speaking, 2/3 of all Americans either have or will make, a resolution this year. The top ten resolutions people make are, to lose weight, to get organized, spend less and save more, enjoy life more, stay fit and eat healthy, learn something exciting, help others, quit smoking, fall in love and finally spend more time with family. Interestingly, making a resolution is more useful than you might think.
75% of those making a resolution keep it through the first week. That percentage drops slightly to 71% at the two week mark and down a bit more to 64% past the first month. What’s encouraging is that 46% of those making a resolution will keep their resolution past 6 months. What I found discouraging about the list of the top 10 resolutions is that none of them mention anything about improving our Christian walk. There is no mention of refining our study of God’s word, spending more time in prayer or being more faithful to the church and its mission. The focus of resolutions is toward the self and not God. But consider this, the ultimate resolution a Christian can make is to live in the light of divine intentions, not human motivations.
Did anyone come to breakfast on Friday morning and announce “I’m so hungry, I feel as if I haven’t eaten since last year!”? It’s fun to play with all the brand-new possibilities open to us on January 1. If you took a walk the past 4 days then you’ve exercised every day this year. If we got through lunch the past couple of days without eating potato chips or a candy bar, than this year reflects a whole new healthy and perfectly-kept diet regime. So far this year, perhaps you haven’t cussed at someone, never yelled at the kids, never forgotten to floss, never thrown your dirty clothes on the bathroom floor and didn’t neglect your personal Bible study and prayer, if this is the case, than this year is off to a great start!
On January 1 our whole life can be transformed. For a few short days at least, all our good intentions can be jump-started, and all our bad habits can be unplugged. At least for a few days (or hours?), the year is a perfect reflection of our best self. But 4 January is followed inevitably by 5 January and 6 January. Someday soon we’ll be tempted to opt for staying in a cozy bed a few more minutes rather than plunging out into the cold on that brisk walk. Pretty soon, if we’re not careful, candy wrappers will start appearing in our desk drawer again. By the 7th or 8th, we will surely have been aggravated enough at a bad driver or a dropped glass or a stubbed toe to have let loose a blue streak of bad words or unsanctified thoughts. By the 9th, our socks could very likely be back on the bathroom floor and our dental floss gathering dust. By the 10th we fall asleep before we can even get the Bible open.
For all but a few of us, most New Year’s resolutions get packed away with the last of the Christmas decorations. By Epiphany our behavior and the whole New Year are just as tarnished as they were before January 1. The problem with most of our resolutions is that they are too safe, too sensible and too self-centered. We resolve to make tiny cosmetic changes in our lifestyles, but refuse to consider restructuring our lives and changing the paradigms by which we live. Luke’s single story about the boy Jesus offers us an example of what it would mean if we were to transform our lives by making the ultimate resolution, the mother of all New Year’s resolutions, the resolution that ends all resolutions, that is to put God first in our lives and declare that from this day forward we will be “about [our] Father’s business.”
In our gospel lesson for this morning, we read that Joseph and Mary, their friends, neighbors and relatives, all made the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Over the years I’ve either wondered myself or heard others ask the question, what kind of child was Jesus? The reality is that other than this story, we simply don’t know. The scriptures are largely silent. Long after the events, certain church leaders wanted to prove Jesus was indeed God — and always had been, so they invented miraculous stories about Him, including tales from his childhood. One thing I think we can all agree that Jesus was nothing like other children.
One of the fabricated stories tells how the neighborhood youngsters were shaping clay birds. One little fellow fashioned a particularly realistic looking bird, but Jesus outdid him. His bird not only looked like the real thing, but when He said the magic word and touched it, it flew away. The point of this tall tale? Jesus was unlike the rest of us. The biblical tradition, however, goes out of its way to say that He was just like the rest of us — flesh of our flesh, tempted just as we are tempted. That means His childhood must have been what we might call, “normal.”
The one biblical incident we do have about Jesus’ youth is recorded here in Luke. We shouldn’t be surprised that it’s seen through the eyes of Mary, His mother. Jesus is pictured as a self-willed, slightly disobedient child. In the story Mary is not painted as a shrinking violet, but as an irritated parent.
Three times a year, pious Jewish families went to Jerusalem to participate in feasts. At Passover, during His 12th year, Jesus’ family made the trip. They weren’t the only ones to travel to the capital from Nazareth. Both for protection and companionship families traveled together. You know how it is when families get together. The teenagers collect in their own swarm and do their own thing. However, as soon as the allotted time for the holiday was over, they hit the road anxious to get back to all the chores and responsibilities that filled their lives.
Joseph, a craftsman working with stone and wood, undoubtedly had projects awaiting his attention. Mary would have had the hundreds of time-consuming tasks it took to keep her family fed and clothed. Like most of us at the end of an extended vacation, they were probably looking forward to getting back to the comfortable familiarity of their own hearth and home. But the young Jesus refuses to let His relationship with God be regulated according to some prearranged, culturally imposed schedule. Instead of going along with the return-to-business-as-usual attitude, Jesus answered the most important call of all, to be about His Father’s business. So after a day on the road, Mary and Joseph go looking for Jesus.
Following the celebration and after a long day on the road home, Mary probably said to Joseph, “Have you seen Jesus?” “No, I guess he’s with His friends,” was the likely reply. “I’ll go and tell Him supper’s ready.” Joseph goes and finds His buddies, but Jesus isn’t with them. As a matter of fact, they haven’t seen Him all day. At this point you can imagine His parents’ irritation and worry. “The boy is 12. It’s about time He shows some responsibility. We give Him lots of freedom, and He takes advantage of it,” Joseph might have said. “But what if something has happened to Him, Joseph? I’m worried.” That sounds like a lot mothers I’ve known. So Mary and Joseph leave the caravan and head back to the city. After consulting with the local police and checking the hospitals, they go to the place He was last seen, the temple. Sure enough, He’s there. But what is He up to?
Let me ask you this; what would it mean if we were to act in a similar fashion? What would it mean to live, not according to human expectations or cultural patterns, but according to what God required of us? What does it mean to be about God’s business, rather than other people’s business, or even other people’s definition of God’s business? Jesus discovered at this early age that answering God’s expectations can get you in trouble, even with your own family. In fact, focusing on God’s business may put an unexpected crimp in the family business. “Business-as-usual” may not be the way God does business. And the world and the church find that unnerving.
The ultimate New Year’s resolution is about seeking God’s will for our lives. The Bible addresses gluttony, keeping our bodies as a temple for God, studying God’s word which in turn means we learn new and exciting things, it teaches us how to love others, moderation with our financial blessings and a host of other things. The ultimate resolution a Christian can make, is to live in the light of divine intentions, not human inventions. In essence, the ultimate New Year’s resolution is about balance in our lives; spiritual, mental and physical. The New Year’s resolution to end all resolutions is to live under the umbrella of God’s expectations and to make it my business and your business to be a part of God’s business. But this just begs a bigger question: What is God’s business?
God’s business is transformation. An electrical transformer takes high voltage and transforms it into the lower levels of energy that we can use in our everyday lives. Without a transformer, the electrical devices we use every day would quickly be destroyed. There would be no light in the darkness, no safety in the storm. At a lowly stable in Bethlehem, God came to us and gave us Jesus the Christ, who transforms, in His life, the love and power of God into the impulses of grace and salvation that the world desperately needs. So what does the Christian who resolves to be a part of God’s transforming work on January 1 do on Monday, January 5th? There are two essential requirements: First, we start with prayer and then go deeply into God’s word. Second, we must go widely into the world.
First there is prayer and the word. When the young Jesus felt called to live beyond business-as-usual and answered the call of God’s business, He first went to the temple. In other words, He steeped Himself in the meanings and messages of God’s word. Knowing what God intends for us as His disciples, learning what God has already said and done and promised for this world, is a necessary first step in the transformative process. We also know from studying the Bible that Jesus, during His ministry, would separate Himself from the crowds, the demands being placed on Him and leave His disciples to go off and pray. Pray was an important part of His relationship with the Father and it should be for us. The second essential requirement for transformations is to go widely into the world.
Being about God’s business doesn’t mean we do nothing but sit in the temple, in the church, all day long and discuss theology. Remember that while Jesus started out in the temple, He then obediently followed Joseph and Mary back out into the world. We cannot be a part of transforming the world unless we stand in its midst. That’s the trouble with our traditional New Year’s resolutions, they never step outside the confines of our own self-centered existence. We need to reprioritize our lives and priorities and put God first in our lives.
So what if instead of resolving to lose 10 pounds this year, we resolved to eat according to a diet that could sustain the whole world? What if instead of resolving to get more exercise this year, we resolved to exercise some spiritual muscles and organized a prayer-chain across our community? What if instead of resolving to spend less time in front of the TV and more time reading some good books, we resolved to teach those struggling with illiteracy to read those books to us? So what if instead of resolving to spend more “quality time” with our family, we resolved to start a time of prayer and devotion with the family. Instead of family time around the TV, we spend time around the dinner table.
Fortunately in our Christian faith, Jesus Christ is the gold standard for our attitude and actions. We don’t have to invent a new way of living for the Lord; we just need to imitate Jesus. For instance, when we see and understand how Christ is other centered in His mindset, by grace we develop an other centered attitude. We look people in the eyes with love and long to know who they are and what makes them feel loved. When facing conflict we default to a prayerful response rather than a prideful reaction. Our imitation of Christ involves submission, training and time.
Since imitation is such a simple concept to understand, why don’t more Christians act like Christ? Imitation doesn’t happen in an instant or by accident. It’s a process of replacing an unhealthy perspective with a healthy viewpoint. We begin to see ourselves as Jesus sees us: loved, accepted and precious in His sight. Indeed, steps to becoming more like Christ are found in the Bible. Spirit-led learning is our guide to imitating God.
Yes, our imitation of Christ includes instruction. The ability to apply unchanging truth to our ever changing circumstances is critical to following the example of Jesus. Jesus would only do what His heavenly Father showed Him to do. So, we learn to listen to the Lord through prayer, His Word and other godly or expert advisors. Prayerfully, we mold our attitude around humility and our actions around grace. Like a stellar athlete who carefully clothes themselves in a uniform that enhances their success, so we imitate Christ as we clothe ourselves in His character.
Our life, our commitment to the ultimate resolution, can help the love of God through Christ transform the world. Today is January 4th. A fresh New Year lies unblemished before us. What do we resolve to be on January 5th and for the rest of our life? Jesus set the example for us. All we have to do is place God first in our lives, follow Jesus’ example and be obedient to God’s will. If we do this, we can live balanced lives and be the transforming power that this community so desperately needs.

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